Providing Effective Feedback to Students

by Mandi Olson

Educators provide feedback to students daily, however, often there is a disconnect between the feedback given to students and how students use that feedback to improve their learning.  Examining how feedback is viewed using educational research can help us know how to effectively provide feedback to our students. Researcher, John Hattie, examined and synthesized more than 1,000 meta-analyses which comprised more than 50,000 individual studies, to determine factors that affect student learning and achievement.  In his book, Visible Learning, Hattie ranked 138 effects that influence learning outcomes and he continues to add to his research as his original list has grown to 195 (Hattie, 2017). This research is helpful to educators because if almost any change in education will have a positive effect, why not focus on those that will have the greatest effect on student learning?  A year’s growth, calculated by Hattie, is 0.40.  So from his rankings of 195 effects on learning, educators can examine those influences that have a greater chance of increasing student learning and begin to use them in their teaching practice. With an effect size of 0.63, feedback has the potential to accelerate student learning. 

Feedback provides a powerful tool for educators to help students increase their understanding.  In what ways can educators provide effective feedback to students so that they can actually utilize the feedback given to them? First, it is important to differentiate how educators and students view feedback.  From an educator’s viewpoint, feedback is often viewed as answering “how am I going?” or “where am I going?” However, from a student’s viewpoint, feedback is viewed as answering the question: “help me know what to do now.”  Understanding the differences between how educators and students define feedback is necessary because unless teachers view feedback as helping students know what to do now they may be inadvertently providing feedback to students that they are unable to utilize.  Feedback should provide students with concrete steps about what to do to improve.  Without these concrete steps, students (especially those needing more support) do not know what to do next in their learning. 

Often, educators provide too much feedback or feedback that isn’t helpful for students to know what to do now to improve their understanding.  One way to improve this process is for teachers to ask their students if they know how to use the feedback that is being given to them.  Teachers could ask a question such as, ‘What don’t you understand about what I said when I made these comments’? This can be helpful for teachers to see where the gap is in how feedback is being received by students.  

Providing more and more feedback to students can often be overwhelming to students.  One strategy to help focus our feedback is to provide clear success criteria for our students and engage our feedback around these specific success criteria.  An example of success criteria for a 6th-grade science class is provided:

  • Learning Intention: students are learning to develop and use a model to show how Earth’s unequal heating of the Earth’s systems causes patterns of oceanic circulation that determine regional climates.
  • Success Criteria: I can create a storyboard or flowchart model to describe the conditions that cause lake-effect snow.

In this example, the teacher can provide specific feedback to students about how their flowchart or storyboard provides a description of the conditions causing lake-effect snow.  Is the description clear and easy to follow?  Is the model in the correct order?  Is the description of the conditions accurate?  Feedback is easier to craft around specific success criteria that students are using to demonstrate understanding of the learning intention being taught.

When used effectively, feedback has the potential to accelerate student learning.  As educators reflect on how they implement feedback in their classroom they will be able to leverage the power of the 0.73 effect size and increase student learning in their classroom. 

References:

Hattie, J. (2017, May). How to Empower Student Learning with Teacher Clarity. Corwin. Retrieved November 15, 2021, from https://us.corwin.com/sites/default/files/corwin_whitepaper_teacherclarity_may2017_final.pdf. 

Hattie, J. (2022). Visible Learning Metax website: Feedback.  Retrieved November 14, 2022, from https://www.visiblelearningmetax.com/influences/view/feedback

 

Mandi Olson

Mandi Olson Mandi Olson, Ed.D, is an elementary educator who currently works as an instructional coach in Utah. She utilizes her fourteen years of knowledge and experience to support others as they further develop their educational expertise. She will provide practical insight to help teachers navigate the complex roles and responsibilities of an educator.